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Biblical garden creator leaves world-class legacy

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Little did Walter Jacob and Irene Loewenthal realize when they met while vacationing in Italy in 1958 that Pittsburgh would become a focal point in their lives.

“I was studying in England at the time, and Irene was working as a laboratory technician in Israel,” said Walter Jacob, rabbi emeritus of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland. “I found Irene to be a bright, intelligent young woman who was able to get people to follow, a trait she carried throughout her life, which enhanced the life of others.”

Irene Jacob of Point Breeze, founding director of the Rodef Shalom Biblical Garden, died on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, in her home. She was 84.

Mrs. Jacob co-founded Mainstay Services for Handicapped Children and was involved with Mothers Day Out, an organization that enabled stay-at-home moms to have time for themselves.

Born and raised in Germany and England, Irene Loewenthal was one of three children of insurance broker Ludwig and Anna Loewenthal, who moved to England once the Nazis came to power in Germany.

She immigrated to Israel six months after independence was declared in 1948.

She and the rabbi were married in the same year they met.

Walter Jacob recalled hearing his wife describe the English as hard workers and great gardeners, and say how much she enjoyed watching her father cultivate his garden.

After he became rabbi of Rodef Shalom, Mrs. Jacob became actively engaged with the temple families.

Her commitment in developing the Rodef Shalom Biblical Garden established her as a world-class horticulturist whose creation attracted visitors from throughout the world.

Gardens often portray periods in the history of a nation, her husband said, and “the items in Irene's Biblical Garden designate periods in Israel's history.”

The garden features plants and trees cited in the Bible. This year, the exhibit added a replica of a 3,000-year-old plow made with materials that would have been used in ancient Israel.

As educational coordinator at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland, Mrs. Jacob put together an exhibit of plants of the Bible.

Mrs. Jacob wrote or was co-author of seven books on horticulture, including “Plants of the Bible and Their Uses.”

In addition to her husband, survivors include a sister, Eva Meisler of Jerusalem, and a brother, Eli Loewenthal of Haifa.

Mrs. Jacob was preceded in death by her children, Claire, Kenny, Daniel and Eslyn Jacob.

Services were Friday in Rodef Shalom Temple, with interment in West View Cemetery of Rodef Shalom Congregation. Arrangements were by Ralph Schugar Chapel Inc.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of contributions to the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden Endowment Fund, c/o Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

Jerry Vondas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7823 or

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